Being of an age where I clearly recall the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency rather than face impeachment. Throughout the national drama the two incessant questions about Nixon were "what did he know, and when did he know it." Sadly, it seems that the nation is again in a situation where these questions are critical in terms of Donald Trump's complicity/collaboration with Russian intelligence services to throw the presidential election to Trump. A new declassified report says Russian President Vladimir Putin "ordered" an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Trump's response? To question the validity of the report and to blame the Democratic National Committee for allowing the Russian hacking to happen. Given that Trump is a pathological liar and is such a narcissist that he could never admit that his narrow Electoral College win might be due to Russian efforts, Trump's response isn't surprising. But the more frightening possibility is that Trump and his campaign knew of the Russian hacking, encouraged it and collaborated with a hostile foreign regime. A piece in New York Magazine looks at what we know so far. Here are highlights:
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday afternoon put out a new report titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” straightforwardly recapping a lot of what independent research has already determined. If you’ve only been vaguely paying attention to the story of Russian interference, this is a good opportunity to catch up.
Here are some of the main claims asserted in the report.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the presidential election. The campaign was meant to hurt Clinton’s chances and help Trump. The CIA and FBI have high confidence in these findings, the NSA has moderate confidence. (Why different confidence levels between three agencies? Who knows.)
• As Clinton’s chances of winning crept upward, Russia changed tactics to undermine her predicted presidency.
• Among the participants were covert intelligence operatives as well as “Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’”
• And last but not least, Russian operatives did not mess with the vote tally, though they did obtain access to other parts of certain state and local electoral boards.
While it’s nice to see it all laid out like that in a government report, those claims are consistent with what the government and security experts have already been saying — and since the report doesn’t add any new, specific evidence to support those claims, it’s unfortunately not going to convince any skeptics. What is important is that the popular understanding of “hack” and its meaning in this specific case are divergent. Russia did not mess with the vote — it obtained access to damaging documents and waged a battle of publicity.
The rest of the report focuses heavily on the news network Russia Today, which is funded by the Russian government, a fact that’s never been hidden from the public — but, because it’s a public broadcast outfit, the evidence of Russian affiliation can be included in the report without compromising U.S. intelligence findings.
Did Russia’s actions cause Trump’s win? The way you answer that is likely going to be determined by your politics. But they certainly didn’t hurt, and the report does note that Russia now has an effective playbook for interfering in the democratic process for years to come.
The real question remains, what did Trump know of the Russian effort and when did he know it? Likewise, did his campaign collaborate with the Russian effort? My gut feeling is that the answer to the last question is, yes.